BEGGING PLEADS FOR CANCELLED BASEL
Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland—the word’s grandest contemporary art expo—is, as of this writing, still set to open on the Messeplatz in September, having been pushed back from its normal June slot due to, well, you know. And while many don’t expect to be resuming the jet-set lifestyle by early fall, there’s a good chance that Art Basel will at least be to happen. On Wednesday, the Swiss Federal Council announced that, starting June 6, public hangs of up to 300 people can go on without fear of shaming, and cinemas, theaters, and summer camps will all open, too. Barring a gnarly second wave of infections in the landlocked state—still possible!—there’s a whole three months of further reopening stages Switzerland can move through before collectors are set to check in to their rooms at the Three Kings. And sources say that galleries in neighboring countries are praying to the coronavirus gods the fair organizers will hold the expo in some localized capacity, hoping that it’ll reignite the Schengen Area art market that’s flatlined these last few months.
But other galleries are veering strongly in the other direction. Sources directed my attention to a scathing letter addressed to Marc Spiegler penned by a certain prominent European dealer with spaces in three cities, urging him to cancel the fair rather than put up booths full of paintings in—and this is the tone maintained through the letter—“this apocalyptic context.” And while the dealer hasn’t sent the letter to the Basel brass yet, this week it was shared with dozens of colleagues, and many are planning to co-sign it and insist that Basel not happen in 2020.
“The risks are simply too high: it would be irresponsible to visitors, collectors, and not least to our fellow gallerists,” reads the letter, which was shared with Wet Paint by a dealer who got it from its author. “Two hundred people were infected by the Covid-19 virus at TEFAF in Maastricht, 80 were our colleagues. Contrary to what certain groups of politicians claim, many health experts cite evidence indicating the pandemic will continue to pose a threat to gatherings of people.”
As of press time, the letter had not yet been sent to Spiegler, and Basel reps didn’t comment when we reached out.
Separately, Art Basel sent all its exhibitors a note—shared with us first by a source, then helpfully offered by the fair’s reps—clarifying some points in light of the government’s new rolling back of restrictions. The email went on about how some galleries would love to participate in the fair, while others are, um, skeptical.
“In our recent conversations with gallerists worldwide, many expressed their desire for the fair to go forward—particularly those living in countries whose societies have successfully begun reopening after long lockdowns,” the Basel letter read. “That said, many gallerists have also shared their concerns, reluctance, or unwillingness about doing the Basel show.”
The letter also announced that, though the Swiss government won’t talk about the status of 1000-person gatherings until June 24, Art Basel will get out ahead and give exhibitors another update on the status of the September fair by “the end of next week at the latest.”
KENNY’S CUTTING IN
What do you get if you mix a ghost writer with a guest host? Me! I am not one to sit on information for too long, god knows I’ve been sitting on my ass long enough during quarantine, so here I am dropping into Nate Freeman’s inimitable column that I am such a fan of. So impatient, in fact, I got on a nearly empty United Airlines flight to London last week and bounded onboard like an excitable kid on his first flight—it’s been three awfully long months since I last visited an airport. When I asked the steward to move me to a window seat, he refused due to “weight and balance issues”—reassuring on a 747 with less than two dozen passengers.
Now to some juice. A valued source told me, subsequently confirmed by both parties, that Eddie Martinez left Timothy Taylor Gallery (for reasons of “personal growth,” Eddie assured me when I called to confirm). Unrelatedly, private equity suit Jason Levine ran off from his beautiful (and now very available) fiancée, Sophia Cohen (billionaire collector Steve Cohen‘s daughter and a Gagosian sales associate), not only grabbing the engagement ring on his dash out the door, but also a case of valuable red wine.
On the subject of Larry G, interviewed by last week from his sumptuous Hamptons digs, the mega gallerist, speaking of himself in the third person, as one so mega is wont to do, said: “When things go down like this you say, ‘Jesus, Larry, do you really need all these galleries?’” Apparently he does, as to date, not a single of his 300+ employees have been furloughed nor fired. Selling take-away bento boxes from Kappo Masa, Gagosian’s sushi restaurant, for $800 a pop goes a long way to hold the 18-gallery-strong fort together.
On the sales front, I have heard of a Basquiat co-owned by the Nahmad and Mugrabi clans offloaded at $16.5 million, and a $9 million Christopher Wool text work flogged to a Swiss financier. Also, the Mugrabis bought a bushel of Joel Mesler works ahead of his upcoming show with Los Angeles gallery David Kordansky in November. Sotheby’s also sold a meaty Picasso private treaty. The market is showing signs of life. Let’s hope the trend continues. Not to mention, when I queried another Swiss friend whether he would part with his blue-period Picasso for $150 million, based on an offer from another pal, he didn’t flinch while shooting down the prospect, saying maybe at $500 million, he’d take it under more serious consideration.
At least I was able to pick up a free copy of Richard Prince’s publication of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto, “Truth Versus Lies,” which Prince was giving away from a park bench in Central Park 10 years after he did the same with his reprinted edition of “The Catcher in the Rye,” listing himself as the author. Now I have both. Lastly, a private-museum-owning billionaire, received—via his housekeeper, of course—a government-issued support check for $1,200 signed by none other than Donald Trump. The rich get richer. If you can’t warrant winning votes, why not buy them outright? Now I will hand the mic back from sunny London, where the only masks they wear are the one’s covering their emotions, rather than their faces. Lord help them.
L.A.’S LAST SOLD-OUT SHOW
There aren’t many gallery shows to see in Los Angeles at the moment, that’s for sure. One of the few places that had been welcoming mask-wearing visitors through its doors over the last month was a pop-up space in the garage of an artist named Austyn Weiner, who hung her new lush abstract paintings all throughout the car-less space. Who is Austyn Weiner, you ask? Well, she’s had recent solo shows at Bill Brady and the Journal Gallery, and sources say one person who’s been buying the work in bulk as of late is Philip Niarchos, the Greek shipping heir who has perhaps the most fabulous contemporary art collections on earth. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s got 60,000 Instagram followers—though that figure pales in comparison to 50 followers claimed by her close friend, Gigi Hadid, the supermodel and sister to fellow supermodel Bella Hadid. (Gigi also has a slightly less accomplished brother, Anwar Hadid, though Anwar does date pop star Dua Lipa. In the Before Times, Wet Paint sat next to Dua Lipa at a Lower East Side bar owned by the actor Justin Theroux. My, how the world has changed.)
Anyway! Hadid family follower counts aside, sources say that Weiner’s painting show is a quarantine hit over in La La Land. Making a pilgrimage to the garage to see the works became, as one Hollywood art-word figure put it, “a thing.” What’s more, the show was completely sold out by the end of the run, with Weiner acting as her own dealer and gallerist. Each work was $16,000, and buyers include Matthew Perniciaro, who produced the wonderful, must-see Rashid Johnson-directed adaptation of “Native Son,” which you can watch using the very device that you’re using to read this gossip column. Head to HBO GO. Or is it HBO Max? Who knows. Hard to keep track these days.
We’ll cut to the chase: the answer to last week’s quiz was Tamara de Lempicka’s (1928). And it is in the collection of the material girl herself, Madonna. And it’s not her only one. “I have a ton of her paintings in New York,” she told in 1990. “I have a Lempicka museum.”
We have three responders who came in first, all at right about the same time. They are the South Carolina-based artist Jeni Kim; Jeffrey Grove, who is a curator, the founder of The Art Advisory, and the director of museums and publications at Sean Kelly Gallery; and Lock Kresler, senior director at Levy Gorvy, running the London gallery. Congrats, all! You did it! You have summited the snowy apex of art-world insider bragging rights!
On to this week’s clue. Who is this actor, what is the work on the upper right of this Zoom call screen shot, and who sold it to them?
The winners shall be revealed in next week’s column, and all victors can expect the Pop Quiz head honcho to put their next martini at the Odeon on the Wet Paint tab. All you have to do is be among the first people to send the full correct answer to the adjudication department at [email protected]
David Nolan Gallery is moving from Chelsea to the Upper East Side, into the 1902 limestone townhouse at 24 East 81st Street (once home to Klaus Kertess’s Bykert Gallery, which housed Brice Marden’s first solo show in 1966), and that the deal was brokered by the gallery-space whisperer Jonathan Travis … Enrique Martínez Celaya’s daughter, Gab Martínez Celaya, is a viral TikTok influencer who gave a video tour of the art collection in her quar pad that snapped up nearly 200,000 likes, showing viewers works by Robert Rauschenberg, Donald Baechler, and “my father haha” … art-world blockchain bro Cameron Winklevoss has gone full-on MAGA, sending out a tweet protesting Twitter’s new policy of politely pointing out President Trump’s blatant falsehoods with this nonsense string of words masquerading as a statement: “‘Fact checking’ is a euphemism for editorializing which is a form of censorship” … Collector Guy Laliberte is looking to buy back Cirque du Soleil, which he co-founded in the 1980s, and the fact that the flying circus is saddled with $900 million in debt has some thinking he might part with works in a massive collection that includes large-scale sculptures by Takashi Murakami, Ai Weiwei, Sarah Lucas, Yayoi Kusama and Damien Hirst …
Amy Sedaris sheltering in place at home with a very fine Ellen Berkenblit painting above her fireplace *** Tico Mugrabi and Colby Mugrabi’s dog, Mugi Mugrabi, staring out at a landscape that looks awfully like a certain dealer’s Gwathmey-Siegel house in Amagansett *** Julie Curtiss selling wood sculptures to benefit Artist Relief in a collaboration with Case Studyo (the edition of 16 plus 4 artist’s proofs, all priced at €12,000 each, sold out in minutes) *** Oh that’s right, after a hike, Wet Paint saw an old colleague, the legendary Foster Kamer, driving down the main drag in Phoenicia, New York—pretty wild to have a spontaneous interaction with another person in real life ***